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Getting shot by police is a leading cause of death for black men in America

Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Across all groups, younger adults were most at risk; the chances of being killed by police peaked between the ages of 20 and 35.

The early 20s are a particularly dangerous time for young men, the researchers found. During the study period, police use of force accounted for 1.6% of all deaths of black men between the ages of 20 and 24. It was also responsible for 1.2% of deaths of Latino and Native American men. However, police violence accounted for just 0.5% of deaths of white and Asian American men in that age range.

"We believe these numbers, if anything, are a little bit conservative, maybe a bit too low," Edwards said. "But we think that these are the best that can be done in terms of just getting a baseline risk estimate out there."

Justin Feldman, a social epidemiologist at the New York University School of Medicine, said the most striking result for him was the mortality risk for black men and boys, which he called "pretty staggering."

"That's quite meaningful," said Feldman, who was not involved in the study. "If it's not you being killed by police, it's someone you know or someone in your community."

Abigail Sewell, a sociologist at Emory University who did not work on the report, said she wasn't surprised by most of the study's results. But that did not change the gravity of the findings.


"Honestly, it was a really unsettling paper," she said.

Part of the solution may be to reduce unnecessary police contact in the first place, Sewell said. For example, programs that helped young men of color find jobs might help keep them off the streets and away from cops. Perhaps mental health professionals could be called upon to address psychiatric issues instead of asking police to do so, since they typically do not have training for such tasks.

If unnecessary police contact were eliminated, she said, the incidence of fatal police violence might be lower -- and racial disparities might be diminished too.

"But I'm not sure if the disparities would disappear altogether," she said. "These women and these men ... are living in neighborhoods that are overpoliced, where the police are very brutal in the way they treat citizens."


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